September 2, 2020 | Q&A Spotlight

As a Black woman, being fully myself at work is a non-negotiable — here’s how I’ve achieved that

Denise Owusu spoke to Fairygodboss on how West Monroe lets her bring her full self to work

Back when she was finishing grad school, Denise Owusu knew she had two requirements for her next career move: the company would need to align with her values, and it had to be a place where she could be wholly herself. Where exactly that was, she wasn’t sure — until she (literally) bumped into the answer.

“I attended a career fair where I literally bumped into a West Monroe campus recruiter,” Owusu recalled. “Totally embarrassed, I began to spark up a conversation with the representative. Turns out, we both had a past in petroleum engineering but decided to switch to sustainable energy to be on the right side of history.”

After this exchange, Owusu says she immediately sensed that at West Monroe, she’d be surrounded by like-minded individuals. A year and a half later, that turned out to be true in more ways than one. This past February, for Black History Month, Owusu was a part of the firm’s launch of its Black Employee Network (BEN) — a move that proved especially timely, given events to come in June.

BEN has provided us with a platform to meet these issues head-on and create long lasting solutions. As a founding member, I am able to help structure the Black/African American experience at West Monroe and create a space where individuals can bring their whole selves to work.

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Recently, she shared with us what it’s looked like to freely, fully express herself at work, why that’s so important to her as a Black woman and her No. 1 piece of advice to anyone seeking authenticity in their careers.

How long have you been working at West Monroe, and what about it first made you want to join? 

I joined last March, so about a year and five months. It’s crazy to think it’s been that long, because I still really feel like I just started! Prior to working with West Monroe, I was getting my Master’s in Engineering and Technology Innovation Management from Carnegie Mellon and I attended a career fair where I literally bumped into a West Monroe campus recruiter. Totally embarrassed, I began to spark up a conversation with the representative. Turns out, we both had a past in petroleum engineering but decided to switch to sustainable energy to be on the right side of history. After that, I immediately knew that I wanted nothing more than to be surrounded by like-minded individuals in the field and felt that West Monroe was a great place to achieve this.

Tell me a little about your current role.

As an Experienced Energy and Utilities Consultant, I’m currently on a telecommunications project with a large utility on the east coast. For the past year, I’ve been helping them deploy a communication mesh that helps to limit the frequency and duration of outages in the area. Great solution for areas that experience frequent storms!

Following the recent events in Minnesota and across the country, you participated in a panel of Black professionals for the Professional Humans podcast. Tell me a little about that experience.

I was excited when I was asked to participate. I think at a time like this, there is nothing more important than uplifting the voices of those who are being oppressed and are suffering, so I was excited to share my story but also to listen to the stories and experiences of others on the panel. 

Why is this type of work important to you both personally and professionally?

I mean, I’m a Black woman. It has to be important to me because it affects how I move around in this society, both in my personal life and especially professionally. Honestly, I’m still just shocked that through all of this, I have been able to fully express myself so freely in a working environment. Years ago, it would have been completely taboo in many organizations. 

How do you build time into your schedule for this kind of work?

LOL. I just squeeze it in wherever I can. Honestly, it’s tough. I am typically a very busy lady who doesn’t have much spare time on her calendar, but I can’t afford to pass up the opportunity at a time as important as this. Things are changing and I want to be able to say that I helped to make that change happen.

How is the culture at West Monroe supportive of Black employees? More specifically, what type of resources or support have been offered to you during this time? 

In February, for Black History Month, we officially launched the Black Employee Network (BEN), which has provided us with a platform to celebrate and support the career development of Black employees, and create long lasting solutions. As a founding member, I am able to help structure the Black/African American experience at West Monroe and create a space where individuals can bring their whole selves to work. After just four months, we have received an extraordinary amount of support from the West Monroe community and continue to grow Black talent, curate culturally relevant events, create a supportive career network for both Black employees and allies, and build the next generation of leaders. 

 

What does the phrase ‘inclusion’ mean to you?

Everyone feeling welcomed and being comfortable enough to (respectfully) express and be themselves. 

What’s your #1 piece of advice for people who want to bring their full selves to work?

Be honest, authentic and respectful. If the people around you can’t accept that, maybe it’s time to consider a “change of scenery.” 

Read the article as it appeared on Fairygodboss.

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